No NFL season is the same as the last, and this one is sure to surprise - including a former powerhouse plunging back to earth. Most of the offseason drama has come to an end, and it's safe to start making our season-long predictions. Who's stock has fallen? Who's stock has risen? Has anybody climbed out of the basement? Did any teams tumble back into it?
Three Predictions for the Upcoming NFL Season
Seventy days until the NFL season, also known as prediction season. I've watched the film, combed through the data, and I predict that:
The New England Patriots Fall Back Out of the Playoffs
Death isn't here, but he's knocking on the door. The Patriots were surprisingly good in 2021. They were 6th in Points Scored and 2nd in Points Against. With rookie quarterback Mac Jones under center, they still managed to rank 11th in Yards Per Play. This must've felt like the start of something special for everybody in the New England area.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the Patriots won't replicate that success this season. Since Josh McDaniels returned as offensive coordinator in 2012, the Pats have averaged a top-10 offense in Yards Per Play. No matter the receivers, running backs, or even quarterback, there was a baseline you got with McDaniels. Unfortunately, I don't see the 'rocket scientist' Matt Patricia or Joe Judge attaining that level of competency.
Everybody from Denver to Indianapolis likes to shit on McDaniels, but he's been undervalued living in the shadow of Bill Belichick. However, McDaniels creativity and ability to adapt can't be denied. While many coaches waste their time trying to plow square pegs through round holes, Josh and Bill always recognized the pieces they had.
Another underrated loss that's not mentioned outside of Boston is the loss of longtime Belichick advisor Ernie Adams. Coming on the heels of the Hoodie's worst draft (at least on paper) is a peek into life without Belichick's right-hand man. Again, this isn't to say Belichick isn't the greatest coach of all time, but sometimes we don't give everybody behind the scenes enough props for success.
It doesn't get much better on the field. PFF ranked the Patriots as the 4th best coverage team in the NFL; this is important to note cause their pass rush was in the bottom ten. The loss of J.C. Jackson will be a massive blow to that unit; he was a top-3 cornerback in the league last season. In addition, the Patriots lost their two best players on the offensive line, Ted Karras and Shaq Mason. That's not great for the development of Mac Jones.
If the New England Patriots make the playoffs, this will be Bill Belichick's finest work yet.
Pittsburgh Steelers Make the Playoffs
You shouldn't take financial advice from strangers on the internet, but you should hammer the fuck out of the Pittsburgh Steelers future of over seven wins. Bet your children's college fund on it (disclaimer: don't actually do this... unless your kid has an obvious ceiling).
Mike Tomlin has never had less than eight wins in a season, and now he has an extra game to hit that mark. The Steelers also don't have to carry the bloated corpse of Ben Roethlisberger up and down the field while acting like he's still a viable quarterback.
The Steelers were tied for 31st in Pass Yards Per Attempt, outpacing just the New York Giants, who were only cosplaying as a football team. Roethlisberger was also 2nd to last in Air Yards Per Attempt, ahead of Sam Darnold and behind Jared Goff. You'll notice this as the neighborhood you don't want your quarterback to live in.
While relying on the rookie quarterback, Kenny Pickett, to bring them to the playoffs isn't ideal, the rest of their offseason was also promising. Free-agent signings Mason Cole and James Daniels won't be confused for Larry Allen, but they're serviceable linemen who'll provide an upgrade to what they had. In addition, 2nd-round pass-catcher, George Pickens, may prove to be the steal of the draft. He bullied defenders at Georgia, a true bulldog of a wide receiver. Steelers also have one of the best pass rushes in the league; they absolutely torture quarterbacks.
I understand it's troublesome backing a rookie quarterback, or even worse, Mitch Trubisky. However, Mike Tomlin racks up winning seasons, the defense is formidable, and they still boast a strong wide receiver room. So close your eyes, bet the over, and collect your money at the end of the season.
The Houston Texans will be Okay
Being okay doesn't feel like a bold prediction, but this is the Houston Texans we're talking about. Their over/under is set at 5.5 wins, and I kinda like the over. Why? Davis Mills, baby! He was so. fucking. average. And if you're the Texans, that's a win! There's a legitimate argument that Mills was the 2nd best rookie quarterback in the draft last year.
Texans won't sniff the playoffs, and they're definitely not challenging for a division title. But, if you live in Houston you should be excited about Davis Mills. Hell, we should all be excited about Mills. He completed 67% of his passes over the entire season; That's great for a rookie, just ask Zach Wilson.
Over the last five games, he threw nine touchdowns against just two interceptions for a 102.4 Quarterback Rating. During that time, he averaged over 7.3 Yards Per Attempt, which would've put the Texans at 8th in the league. He did all that while being supported by the worst running game in the NFL. That means the Texans couldn't even keep defenses honest, and he still balled out. During that stretch, he went up against Seattle, Jacksonville, Los Angeles Chargers, San Francisco, and Tennessee. That's pretty good!
The Texans and their fans should be seriously excited about Davis Mills. The rest of the roster is still mostly garbage, but they nailed the most critical position. Next offseason, Houston should spend big in free agency to get their man some help.